'Tremendous victory' for Wales buses
UniteLive looks back at key win for Unite Wales 'Back your Bus Route' campaign
If you wanted to catch a bus from the Welsh hamlet Bwlch-Derwin to the nearest major town Caernarfon – only nine miles away – you’d better not miss it. Otherwise, you may have to wait two hours for the next one.
If you’re entirely reliant on public transport in Bwlch-Derwin, you can’t visit your friends in town past eight. There’s no ‘nipping into’ the nearest local shop. A bus trip there – over four miles away in Penygroes – can easily turn into a whole day affair.
As inadequate as bus services already are in rural Wales, they’re absolutely vital. Any cuts to services would be nothing short of devastating, leaving entire communities cut off.
But a future of extreme isolation – especially for the most vulnerable – wasn’t just an imagined nightmare. It was a very real possibility after the Welsh government announced earlier this year the end of the Bus Emergency Scheme (BES), which provided funding for bus services throughout Wales since the pandemic.
Unite then launched a campaign called Back your Bus Route which called on the government to take action to protect bus routes.
Thanks in part to Unite’s campaign, in June, the Welsh government announced that it is to provide £46m of funding to ensure vulnerable bus routes continue. Unite had previously warned that the withdrawal of BES would result in the cancellation of between 35% – 45% of Welsh bus routes and hundreds of job losses across the sector.
Unite Wales regional secretary Peter Hughes hailed the campaign, saying, “The introduction of the Bus Transition Fund is a tremendous victory in our campaign to save Welsh Bus routes. Unite welcomes this decision by Welsh Government to continue supporting bus services that communities across Wales rely upon. This decision will mean that workers, families, and vulnerable people can continue to access the public transport they rely upon, regardless of where they live.”
UniteLive had previously spoken to Unite Community member Kevin Pass, who lives in Bwlch-Derwin and was heavily involved in the campaign.
Kevin told UniteLive that cuts to bus services in and around Bwlch-Derwin would have been catastrophic.
“While our family does have car, earlier in the year, it was stuck in the garage for two months waiting for parts,” he explained. “We had to rely entirely on the buses and it was a huge struggle – and that’s with bus services as they are now.”
Kevin explained that his children who are in primary and secondary school are guaranteed free transport to their respective schools because they live over three miles away. At the moment, they’re being picked up by taxis. But once his son, who’s now doing his GCSEs, goes on to do his A-levels, he’ll need to go to a college nine miles away – and he’ll have to make his own way.
“At the moment, he’ll have to take two buses to get to the college. Each of those is more than 20 minutes, then there’s waiting for the transfer, and the 20 minute walk to the bus station,” Kevin noted. “If bus routes were to be cut, then it would have a huge impact on young people seeking education.”
Kevin highlighted one instance three years ago at a nearby town called Criccieth, where a local private bus company’s license was revoked, plunging bus services there into chaos.
“There was no one else to provide bus services in the area so for three or four months, there were absolutely no buses running in Criccieth and children literally couldn’t get to school,” he noted. “It was a total disaster.”
And it isn’t only young people who would have been affected by cuts to rural bus routes in Wales, Kevin added.
“There are many older people who live alone in the local area, and getting to town to socialise is important for their mental health. Whether it’s getting to work, going to meet friends or getting an education, buses are a fundamental public need.”
Chair of Unite’s passenger transport RISC, Martin Murphy, who’s been a bus driver for nearly two decades, also told UniteLive why the campaign was so vital.
“Without adequate funding, bus operators will then cut routes that they don’t make a profit on, mainly the rural routes,” he explained. “This will cut off communities completely.”
Martin added that before the Welsh government announced additional funding, the uncertainty was also having an effect on bus drivers themselves.
“For some time now, bus drivers have been leaving the industry in droves, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to recruit,” he said. “With the uncertainty over funding, many more bus drivers were considering leaving.”
Like Kevin, Martin emphasised the importance of rural bus routes.
“Buses take elderly people to the shops, to their hospital and doctors’ appointments, and children to their schools and back. My operator recently pulled out a part of a route at my depot, and that’s cut off a connection that local kids take to get to college – cuts to routes have very serious, real-life consequences for people in our communities.”
Stay tuned on UniteLive next week when we catch up with Kevin and Martin again after this key Unite win in Wales.
By Hajera Blagg
- This article is an edited version of an article that first appeared in Landworker.